By Brooke Madden

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Maybe some summer-loving folk are dreaming of warmer days by the lake, back when the ground wasn’t so slushy and the wind didn’t hurt your face. I stand in solidarity with you to an extent. But trust me, December isn’t all bad. I’m going to teach you how to embrace the seemingly eternal greyness of the outside world and help you create a magical, cozy, Christmas oasis that even Ole Saint Nick would be jealous of. By the end of this article, you’ll feel like Clark Griswold when each little light on his home finally shines. And you’ll have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye! 

The secret? Hosting Christmas at the cottage. 

I love my home in the city, but something about retreating up north for the holidays truly makes the season feel magical. Perhaps it’s the blanketed snow; maybe it’s the quiet serenity, or the possibility of spotting reindeer. More than that, hosting Christmas at the cottage is special to me because it’s truly a peaceful escape for myself and my loved ones. 

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Claudia Spahr-Kaye, the current Rental Manager for Cayman Marshall. With over 20 years of hospitality experience (eight of them as a corporate flight attendant for one of Canada’s most influential families), Claudia’s expertise is unmatched. Having hosted some of the world’s most elite guests, Claudia’s Christmas at the cottage tips are sure to impress. 

Décor. You don’t need to hike into the woods and cut down your own, sappy (albeit majestic) evergreen to bring the Christmas spirit into your home. However, incorporating festive, fresh greenery, garlands, or trees inside and outside of your cottage will add spark to your space.

Sandhill Nursery

One of Claudia’s favourite spots for festive greenery is Sandhill Nursery. 

“We offer everything from fresh trees, greens, festive decorated urns and wreaths to Christmas decorations, ornaments and giftware,” says Bill from Sandhill Nursery. Sandhill also runs workshops for custom wreath creation. “Our fresh trees and decorated urns and wreaths are extremely popular, and you can purchase them online and we will deliver them straight to your home or cottage door,” Bill adds. The Huntsville and Burk’s Falls locations are open right up until Christmas, perfect for any last-minute decorators.

Consider adding a Christmas tree from Sandhill to your front porch and back deck. Decorate it with unique ornaments and lights. (Pro tip: Shatterproof lights and decorations work best, especially outdoors.)

Moving inside, fresh centrepieces add a touch of sophistication to your holiday table. Either order one from Sandhill Nursery, or create one yourself. Go on a little adventure with your loved ones to collect large pine boughs cut from your property, pinecones, or anything else you think looks pretty. Lay them down the middle of your table, intertwined with small fairy lights. Add candles of varying sizes and glass ornaments. It’ll create a stunning dressing for your holiday activities. 

Christmas Tyme

Another must-visit place Claudia recommends is Christmas Tyme in Huntsville, where I spoke with Anne about this year-round Christmas shop. “We offer a wide variety of ornaments that are customizable – we have a laser engraver we can engrave with images, that makes your decor one-of-a-kind,” Anne says. Claudia recommends gathering a collection of ornaments that can be hung on a clear string above your chandelier at different lengths, to create a whimsical, Christmas Village feel. 

Here’s another secret that is sure to impress: bake and decorate festive sugar cookies. Use icing to write your guests’ names, and voila! Festive, edible, unique placards for your table. 

Activities. Hosting can be overwhelming, and entertaining your guests shouldn’t feel like a full-time job. Having a list of go-to activities can help you relax and enjoy your guests’ company to the fullest. 

To get into the holiday mood, Claudia recommends a family sleigh ride at Riverglen Farms. Also look into feeding the birds, snowshoeing, skiing, skating, or even hiking the trails in Algonquin Park, to work off some of the calories consumed by the decadent Gluhwein and cookies Claudia will teach you how to perfect later. 

Follow up your outdoorsy day with hot chocolate around the fire. Northbound Elements makes beautiful custom firepits that cater to any style. Gluhwein, hot apple cider or hot chocolate are the perfect accompaniment to an evening under the stars. Pair this with homemade cookies and treats (or maybe even spiked eggnog for the grown-ups) and you’ve got yourself a peaceful Christmas Eve.

’Tis The Season. Ultimately, clichéd as it may be, Christmas is about being with the ones you love. So gather ’round the fire, sing a carol or two, and enjoy the beauty of the cottage, with the magic, wonder, and grace of the season. Oh, and maybe throw on some National Lampoon movies, now that I’ve got you thinking about it. 


Gluhwein

• 1 large bottle of red wine
• 1 orange or clementine, sliced
• 4-5 cloves
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 cup sugar, or more to taste

Bring all ingredients to a simmer until sugar is dissolved. Ladle into a mug and top with a shot of brandy, Grand Marnier or any liqueur that you prefer and serve warm.

Sugar Cookies

• 300g all-purpose flour
• 10mL baking powder
• 100g sugar
• 1 packet Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar
• 1 egg
• 150g butter

Mix baking powder with flour, add all remaining ingredients, and mix in a stand mixer or by hand and knead to form a smooth dough. Flatten into a disk shape and cover with foil. Let cool in the fridge for 30 min. In the meantime, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, preheat oven to 350F/180C and choose your favourite cookie cutters. Roll out the cooled dough to approximately ½ cm thick and use various cookie cutters. Place on the middle rack of oven and bake for 10 min. Cookies can be decorated with icing sugar, chocolate, royal icing, etc. These can be stored in cookie tins in a cool place for several weeks.